Friday, August 25, 2006

More Guilt-Induced Travel


The only two places in Holland I have visited are Amsterdam and Enschede. That is so incredibly lame I can hardly put it into words, but somehow I managed not to leave the city unless absolutely necessary. Everything in Holland can be reached by public transportation in two hours, for Christ's sake. I'm leaving in a few days, so it is now or never.

I planned a day trip to The Hague. I wanted to visit the National Archives, which has a genealogical file on my family. (My Dad's family is French Huguenot, by way of Holland.) I spent the rest of my day visiting the city.

First priority was to visit the Rijksmuseum Gevangenpoort, the state-funded torture museum. You get lots of gory descriptions (mostly in Dutch) about how people were tortured in Holland and how the death penalty was administered. Until 1870 that is, when the death penalty was abolished as antiquated and uncivilized. That was 136 years ago. Ahem.

The museum seems to exist in part to expiate national guilt over the torture and lynching of Cornelis de Witt and his brother, Johan. I had to watch a long, dull video about it in Dutch. It's apparently the shame of Holland, but I had never heard of the guy. The political story is complicated, but after he was killed, his intestines were removed and squares were sold for five cents each. Look for that on eBay.

I took a walk around the lake, taking lots of pretty pictures of weird looking ducks and very pushy geese. Then I visited the Mauritshaus, which is a small musuem of well chosen masterpieces (good) and much too expensive (bad). It's the home of Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring and a number of Rembrandts. It's Rembrandt Year in Holland, by the way, and museums here won't shut up about it.

Then I did my duty at the National Archives, and tried to board a train home. But my train was stuck in the station, so I had to get on a rush-hour train to Leiden and then transfer to my original train to Amsterdam. As I sat illegally in first class, I thought, why not stop off in Leiden and explore? The university is the most famous and prestigious in Holland, and that alone had me curious. My feet were burning, but I could sleep later.

I have to say, Leiden is great. I liked The Hague, but it has the solidity of a small national capital. It's the Montpelier of Holland. Leiden is dominated by college students, who are literally everywhere eating, drinking, and running you down with their bikes. It reminds me of Ann Arbor and Palo Alto, but with canals and windmills and 17th century buildings. You could also call it Amsterdam without the skanky tourists in the middle.

It was nearly 6pm before I made my way out of the train station, without a map or even directions, really. One of the fun things about traveling by yourself is that you can just see what happens. It's especially easy in Holland, because there are signs and maps everywhere. If worse comes to worse, you can just grab a bus or tram somewhere, because they all go to the train station eventually. And the strippenkaart that you use in Amsterdam for the tram? It works throughout the whole country, so I can get on the bus in Leiden, get my strippenkaart stamped, and go.

I walked through pretty parks, examined the oddly neo-classical architecture, and found my way to the university area. Like all Dutch universities outside of Twente, there is no campus per se. So there's not really a lot to see, but the law faculty had an interesting building. I took a lot of pictures, and then walked back to the center, ate dinner at one of the many canalside restaurants, and made my way home about 9pm. Didn't really get lost, actually. If you have time and are willing to meander, lots of cool things happen.

Oh, and I finally saw windmills. Check. You can view the photo album, with the usual commentary.

I leave Sunday for Rome, very exciting, but also strange to leave Amsterdam after so long. It'll be interesting see what it's like to return to Ann Arbor next weekend.

6 Comments:

At 10:40 PM, Blogger slskenyon said...

I'm about to leave off England in another three weeks myself and although I have been around the country a bit, I never did get up to Scotland or over to Ireland and I do feel bad about that.

Leiden is a city I know a decent amount about because of my previous work. I've had enough of University-dominated cities, though, let me tell you. You can't beat being over here, ready for the English culture shock, and then being put in the University's equivalent of Chinatown.

 
At 3:45 AM, Anonymous ChloeandSam'smom said...

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At 3:05 AM, Anonymous ChloeandSam'smom said...

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At 3:46 AM, Anonymous Figgenum said...

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At 3:16 AM, Anonymous Shoeless Jack said...

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At 3:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you'd never heard of Cornelis de Witt, you've obviously never read the Black Tulip...

 

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